William Shakespeare's comedy. "The Merchant of Venice," has bombed before a citizen's review committee here, and the group has recommended that it be banned from classroom discussion in local high school literature classes.
The ad hoc committee has reported to the full school board that the play contains references offensive to Jews and therefore should not be used as a text. The school board will decide the issue next month, but the play is no longer being read aloud in the city's two high schools.
Yet the couple who first objected to the use of the play said Friday that the committee's action was mistaken and that the play is acceptable in the classroom as long as students are cautioned that the famous character of Shylock was taken from the most unflattring stereotype of Jews during the 16th century, a time of intense anti-Semitism.
"The classroom is the place to teach the play in its perspective," said Helena Silverman, mother of a high school sophomore. "No group or person should be a stereotype without an explanation."
Her husband, and administrator at Northwood Institute, a business school, told reporters that by banning the play from the classroom the committee is "afraid to grasp the problem and face it the way it is. It's all wrong to take (literature) out of people's hands, and it's not what we want."
What the Silvermans say the did want was to have teachers of the literature course explain that Shylock was not typical of Jews at the time of the writing or of Jews now. In fact, some believe that the English poet was merely spoofing some of the vicious ethnic stereotypes of the day, which held that Jews were all greedy. Shakespeare had Shylock demanding "a pound of flesh" from a client who was unable to meet a loan payment.
But the committee of seven, which included a Catholic priest, decided that the play should not be taught at all, though reporting that it is "a worthwhile teaching tool" and is "of unquestionable literary merit."
The play is still in the school library and will not be taken from the shelves before the school board makes its final decision April 14, according to school Superintendent Robert Owen. The committee's report recommends that the play remain on a list of suggested readings for the class.
Owen said yesterday that the last complaint in Midland that triggered the formation of a citizen's review panel was 10 years ago "at least" and that the play had been taught at the school for more than 20 years. Formation of a review panel is standard policy, Owen said.
Meanwhile, students are reading another Shakespeare comedy, "As you Like It."